Lenoir City Utilities Board met Monday at the Lenoir City Municipal Building to discuss tentative prevention plans against the coronavirus.
Shannon Littleton, LCUB general manager, presented the board with documents outlining steps the company will take to help prevent spreading of the virus. He proposed LCUB temporarily close the main lobby to customers and “operate a drive-through” process but could re-evaluate after discussion with Lenoir City Councilman Eddie Simpson.
“When we close the lobby, that would be to non-essential because I can’t see not allowing people in the building because if they had questions or something,” Simpson said. “We can separate them the way we did our stalls or whatever. We don’t have to be right in their face, I mean we can be there.”
Littleton also proposed a suspension of all collections, especially for those who may not be able to pay their bill due to employment layoffs or temporary closings.
“Our neighbor (Knoxville Utilities Board), with TVA’s (Tennessee Valley Authority) permission, asked to suspend all collection efforts ... so those activities have been suspended, but that does not mean the bills aren’t due,” Littleton said. “KUB has suspended that practice, (but) I’m not sure that it’s appropriate for us to do at this point, but it’s certainly on the table.”
The board did not reach a decision.
“I hate that Knox Utilities used the word ‘suspend.’ I would like to put the word ‘re-evaluate’ in the place of that and look at each one of them individually,” Simpson said. “I think you’re allowing more people to do exactly what we don’t wish that most of them would do. I think the people that’s disconnected for not paying their bills and all that stuff, I think they’re going to really, really take advantage if they can. It’s not that I don’t feel sorry for them, but we all know those people that don’t pay their bills on time, it’s the same people over and over again.”
Littleton said several LCUB employees traveled out of the country last week over spring break, two of which are still overseas. He requested that all of those employees self-quarantine for at least 14 days for safe measures and has canceled all community-related events for the foreseeable future.
If necessary, LCUB could start an alternative social distancing process that would resemble a severe storm event in order to separate employees as much as possible.
“Let’s prepare, let’s say that we have a large number of cases in Loudon County and West Knoxville, then I think we would implement the next phase where we would start separating our people and material and crews and put them on some type of rotation, but we’re certainly not ready to do that now,” Littleton said.
Board members voted in favor of purchasing multiple disinfecting fogging machines to help sanitize LCUB’s facilities and vehicles.
Loudon Utilities Board is also taking steps to ensure the safety of their customers and employees by closing the lobby and utilizing two drive-thru lanes.
“Our building is a former brick-and-mortar bank with two drive-thru windows, and so that’s essentially our main response at this point is to close the lobby because we’ve talked specifically about seniors here in Loudon and Tellico Village who didn’t need to handle that doorknob or go to the restroom or interact with others, waiting in line to pay a bill,” Ty Ross, Loudon city manager, said.
LUB distributed informational fliers to all customers, recommending all payments be made online. Ross said LUB will also suspend payment collection efforts for the time being.
“We received communication from our regulator TVA this morning, and what they’re allowing is reasonable accommodations to those who are having difficulty paying,” he said. “Basically, rather than a hard 30-day disconnection or shutoff, we’re looking at reasonable extensions of time, possibly an extra month. The definition was one of reasonableness, and so we’re looking at essentially doubling the normal time of disconnection.”